And the War Goes On

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

November 7, 2005

The coalition of the clueless that launched the tragically misguided war in Iraq is in complete disarray.

Dick Cheney is simultaneously running from questions about his role in the Valerie Wilson affair and fighting like mad to block any measure that would outlaw torture by the C.I.A. His former top aide, Scooter Libby, one of the original Iraq war zealots, is now an accused felon who is seldom seen in public unaccompanied by defense counsel.

Donald Rumsfeld, the high-strutting, high-profile defense secretary who was supposed to win this war in a walk, is suddenly on the down-low. There are people in the witness protection program who are easier to find than Rummy.

As for the president, he went all the way to South America to get away from the Washington heat. But even within the luxurious confines of Air Force One, Mr. Bush found that he couldn't escape the increasingly corrosive effect of the fiascos plaguing his administration.

The ominous news of the president's plummeting approval ratings followed him like a dark cloud. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Mr. Bush has never been less popular with the public. On nearly every important measure of character and performance, he was given lower marks than ever before. For the first time, according to the poll, a majority of Americans even questioned the president's integrity. And fully 55 percent of respondents to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll said they believe the Bush administration has been a failure.

The fact that Mr. Bush is struggling in his own political purgatory (for the sin of incompetence) is bad news for the soldiers in Iraq, where the suffering and dying continues unabated. The administration that was so anxious to throw scores of thousands of healthy young Americans into the flames of war now has no idea how to get them out.

Troops are being sent into Iraq for two, three, even four combat tours by an administration in which clowns like Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were playing games with the identity of a C.I.A. agent, and the vice president has been obsessed with his twisted protect-the-torturers campaign.

Now the Bush crew, which should be focused like a laser on what to do about the war, is consumed with damage control - pumping up the poll numbers, defending its handling of prewar intelligence, fending off further indictments and staying out of prison.

The war? There's no plan for the war. The architects of this war had no idea what they were getting into, and they are just as clueless now. The war just goes on and on, which is not just tragic - it's criminal.

Opposition to the war may be mounting. But the reality of the war, especially the toll of American dead and wounded, fades in and out of the public's consciousness.

There was a rush of articles a couple of weeks ago when the number of deaths of Americans serving in Iraq reached 2,000. But those stories were quickly superseded by Harriet Miers's withdrawal of her nomination to the Supreme Court; President Bush's selection of Samuel Alito to take her place; the indictment of Mr. Libby; the president's address to the nation on the possibility of a bird flu pandemic and so on.

The killing of G.I.'s in Iraq once again took its place as a relatively minor story, meriting in most cases just a brief mention on the inside pages of the major newspapers, and the most cursory coverage on television newscasts.

The death toll has now reached at least 2,035 and, of course, it is climbing. More than 15,000 G.I.'s have been wounded in action. Limbs have been lost. Men and women have been permanently paralyzed, horribly burned, or blinded. Thousands more have been injured in nonhostile incidents, such as accidents, and many have fallen ill.

If the American public could see the carnage in Iraq the way television viewers saw the agony of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this war would be over. A solution would be found. Imagine watching a couple of soldiers in flames, screaming, as they attempt to escape the burning wreckage of a vehicle hit by a roadside bomb or a rocket-propelled grenade.

For all the talk, neither the administration nor the public has taken the reality of this war seriously enough to do something about it. If the sons and daughters of the privileged were fighting it, we'd be out of Iraq soon enough. But they're not fighting it.

So the war goes on and on.